My father, Cohen Walker, was born in Washington County on Jan. 26, 1917. His father, my grandfather, David F. Walker, was born June 4, 1883, in Washington County, and Papa’s father, John Freeman (Flournoy) Walker, was born on Feb. 20, 1854, in the same county. Papa’s grandfather, Freeman F. Walker, was born Dec. 16, 1828, also in Washington County.
Freeman F. Walker died of erysipelas (an acute disease of the skin marked by spreading inflammation) as a Confederate soldier on June 22, 1863. He is buried in Thornrose Cemetery in Staunton, Virginia. He probably walked from Washington County to Staunton, Virginia, to die.
From the birth of my great-great-grandfather (1828) to the birth of my father (1917) is 89 years. But the number of years belies the small life changes from the time of Freeman F. Walker’s birth to daddy’s birth.
My grandparents traveled in 1917, and probably into the 1940s, primarily by mule and wagon. They never had air conditioning -- never. They finally had a black and white television (one or two stations -- “The Lewis Family” and “The Lawrence Welk Show” being two programs I remember Grandma watching). The television was almost as big as Papa’s safe in his small, one-room country store.
Grandma and Papa, at some time in their marriage, got running water and an inside bathroom. The Romans had “running water” and “inside bathrooms” thousands of years prior to Grandma and Papa getting it. Papa had an old shotgun and a little “lemon squeezer” .32-caliber pistol. Shotguns and pistols had been around for many, many years by the time daddy was born in 1917. They had a crank telephone, and they were very reluctant to spend the money to make a long-distance call. Change was slow, very slow.
Daddy graduated from the agriculture school at the University of Georgia in 1937. I doubt he ever had a car while in college. I know he rode the bus some and hitchhiked a lot. Several times he told me about the time he was stranded in Bishop and had to spend the night on a bench in front of a service station. Yes, there were things called “service stations” in the 1930s. They actually gave needed service to your vehicle.
What would I say were the biggest changes in Daddy’s life from 1917 until his death on March 25, 2002? First, electricity. Second, the automobile. Third, the television. Fourth, air conditioning. Fifth, medical advances. Sixth, the telephone.
These are six of the things that I think affected Daddy and his lifestyle. Others might name different things, but I believe these affected Daddy the most.
Then, things began to speed up. The interstate highway system in the 1960s had subtle but dramatic effects. We are still feeling them. It put lots of people out of business (mom and pop stores, motels, hotels, restaurants, service stations, etc.) and made lots of folks rich (Wal-Mart, motels, hotels, restaurants, gas stations, etc.)
Then, it sped up more. Bag phones (yes, I had one, and it must’ve weighed five pounds or more), computers, cable TV (you could get more than 100 stations), satellite TV (you could get more than 200 stations), cell phones, iPhones, iPads, the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, etc.. It’s so fast, it’s hard (and impossible for many) to keep up.
My former law partner, Chuck Byrd, used to say that he “knew every pay phone between Perry and Atlanta.” How quaint. What a different, recent time ago. And, by the way, are there still workable pay phones by the roadside between Perry and Atlanta? I doubt it.
The federal government couldn’t have the size budget and the huge deficits we have today without the computer. “So what,” some would say. “Too bad,” others would remark. Everybody can know everything about you and can make up things that are not true and ruin you. So what? Cameras are everywhere. Satellites, drones, hacking. Do you care?
Dean William Tate, dean of men at the University of Georgia, told me this when I was a freshman at UGA in 1960: “If Jesus Christ had come to my grandparent’s home in the mountains, he would have understood everything in their cabin, except the flintlock rifle over the fireplace and the matches to light the fire.” If my great-great grandfather, Freeman Walker, came to little Perry today, he would not understand much of anything.
Notice that my father, his father, his grandfather and his great grandfather were all born in Washington County. Not much changed from 1828 to 1917. Four generations birthed in the same rural county is unlikely to happen that way today.
The changes keep coming, and we haven’t seen anything yet. Hold on, if you can.
Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.